Senate hopeful Aisha Wahab grew up in the foster care system and, if elected, would become the only renter in the state Legislature.
Wahab, a Hayward councilmember, is running for State Senate District 10. The district encompasses parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties, including Hayward, Fremont, Milpitas and North San Jose.
The state Senate candidate said seeing the effects of the housing crisis every day informs her political work. If elected, Wahab said she’d be the first Afghan-American elected to the state Legislature.
“I see a homeless population that is growing, stagnating wages at the bottom and limitless wages at the top,” Wahab said. “For me, equity is incredibly important.”
Wahab was born in New York City, but her biological parents died when she was an infant. She and her sister went into foster care together, after which a Fremont couple eventually adopted them.
“I think my background in general has really made me see society and the community in a much larger frame,” Wahab said. “My mother, she’s not only worked as a maid, she’s worked at Burger King, and she’s worked at Walmart… my father, when he came to this country, he did a lot of odd jobs.”
Wahab’s adopted parents eventually became the owners of a small retail business, but their sales tanked during the Great Recession. Living as renters in Fremont, they decided to move to the less-pricey Hayward where Wahab now serves on the City Council.
By the end of this year, California will undergo redistricting, a process in which electoral districts are redrawn to ensure each area represents roughly the same number of people. According to 2020 census data, Milpitas’ population grew by .05%, while San Jose’s population declined by 1.26%. Fremont also shrunk by 786 people.
State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, who currently represents District 10 and terms out next year, said redistricting will not affect the area’s progressive leaning.
“I am confident the winner will be a progressive champion who will go to the Capitol and fight on behalf of working people and not the big corporate interests,” Wieckowski said.
Other people running in the race include Fremont Mayor Lily Mei, former San Jose City Council candidate Jamal Khan, Jaime Raul Zepeda and Paul Pimentel.
Wahab previously interned for Jim Beall, a former state senator, assemblymember and Santa Clara County supervisor who said she’s hardworking, passionate and “smart as a whip.” He said Wahab is not in the race for personal gain, and that her genuine commitment to public service distinguishes her from other candidates.
“I’ve seen some of them, I know some of them,” he said. “I don’t see that quality in the other candidates as much as I see it in her.”
Beall said this year’s redistricting may change the makeup of the district.
“It definitely will still be an East Bay district, but where the boundaries (will be) are still to be determined,” Beall said. “If it goes into the valley, the Livermore area, that would change the complexion of the district a little bit.”
About a quarter of State Senate District 10 residents identify as white, while in neighboring Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore, white people constitute the majority.
State Assemblymember Alex Lee said he doesn’t think redistricting will have much of an impact on the race. Lee represents Assembly District 25, which overlaps with Senate District 10 in Fremont, Milpitas and North San Jose.
“Redistricting could affect the race, but if anything, it would make the district geographically smaller,” Lee said, adding that the area experienced a high rate of population growth.“I don’t think it’ll ultimately be too radical of a change.”
Lee said Wahab’s lived experience grounds her work, in contrast to other candidates whose platforms are shaped by political trends.
“It’s not just about chasing a title, it’s about bringing about systemic change,” Lee said. “She has real values that are rooted in the working class… not just because someone polled and it was popular.”
Former Federal Election Commissioner Ann Ravel said she first met Wahab when she herself ran for state Senate last year. Ravel said Wahab’s thoughtfulness and willingness to carefully analyze issues struck her.
“She is clearly the kind of candidate that I believe our state needs,” Ravel said. “One who will make decisions based on facts and depth of understanding, and in the interest of the public and not for selfish political reasons.”
After Ravel’s endorsement of Wahab resulted in backlash, she told the candidate she could forgo listing her as a supporter if it was detrimental to the campaign.
“She responded, essentially, that she would not be intimidated by those who have litmus tests,” Ravel said.
Solving difficult problems requires working with people whose ideas differ from your own, Wahab said.
“Sometimes it’s your friend you disagree with, and sometimes it’s someone you historically disagree with who you might get along with,” she said. “My goal is to build a coalition.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.